Health care services in general, including pharmacy services, are often sparse in rural areas of Nebraska. That's why state Sen. Matt Williams, Gothenburg, of the 36th District, sponsored LB731, a bill that would allow pharmacies in the state to provide remote drug dispensing when the nearest pharmacy is at least 10 driving miles away.
"I have seen and understood the need for pharmacy dispensing in the rural parts of the state," Williams says. "Too often, a pharmacist in a rural town retires, and nobody is there to take over the practice to ensure that the community has its needs met in filling and receiving prescriptions."
In the end, Williams' bill was amended to become an omnibus health and human services licensure measure, which eventually passed the Unicameral and was signed into law by Gov. Pete Ricketts. Under the bill, a certified pharmacy technician in a remote pharmacy could dispense prescription drugs in rural and underserved areas under remote supervision via a real-time audiovisual communication system by a licensed pharmacist employed by a supervising pharmacy.
According to Joni Cover, chief executive officer of the Nebraska Pharmacists Association, many areas of the state do not have pharmacies because of the smaller population base and economies of scale. "If a community does not have a physician or hospital, it is very difficult to operate a pharmacy in that community," Cover says. "Nebraska has 19 counties that do not have a pharmacy. Our pharmacist members see a need to have a pharmacy and pharmacist in some of the underserved areas, and the remote dispensing pharmacy may be a solution for access to needed medications."
Cover says that NPA worked with Williams to change Nebraska law, allowing for remote prescription drug dispensing. "We know that when a pharmacist is involved as the medication expert on the health care team, patients have better health outcomes," Cover says. "Remote pharmacies are a way to achieve that goal."
Cover says that remote pharmacies under the new law will be staffed by a certified pharmacy technician and owned by a supervising pharmacy that is licensed and located in Nebraska no less than 10 driving miles from a pharmacy already in operation, with a pharmacist on-site to dispense medications.
"The patient can pick up their medication at the remote site and talk to a pharmacist via a real-time audio-visual connection," she explains. "The pharmacist will visit the remote site periodically and may offer on-site services, such as immunizations."
"LB731 will allow those in rural areas that have seen their pharmacies close in recent years, to again be able to obtain their prescriptions within their communities," Williams says. "The biggest needs are in communities that have a retirement home or assisted living facility, but lack a pharmacy that could provide them with the medication their residents need."
The new law was modeled after similar programs in Iowa and North Dakota. "However, we tried to tailor our program so that it was the safest and most convenient option for consumers and pharmacists, while also not imposing a regulatory burden on the Department of Health and Human Services," Williams says.
Learn more at update.legislature.ne.gov.